Last Stronghold Of Nightingale Under Threat

Development threatens the last stronghold of UK’s famous songbird, which has already seen its population decline by 90% in the last 50 years.

By Kieren Puffett
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:39 BST
Photograph by RSPB Images

A new draft Local Plan proposed by Medway Council in Kent is threatening the last remaining and best site in the UK for nightingales.

The songbird’s population has already declined by 90% in the past 50 years to just a few thousand pairs, and is now listed among the UK’s most threatened birds. Medway Council’s new draft Local Plan continues to designate land at and around Lodge Hill as being suitable for thousands of new houses.

Lodge Hill is recognised as the best site for nightingales in the UK and one of the last strongholds for the much-loved secretive songbird you may not see but will never forget hearing. Unlike many songbirds, nightingales nest at ground level, and there are fewer and fewer sites available where they can safely rear young.

The Nightingale population in the UK has dropped by 90 percent over the past 50 years, with Lodge Hill the last remaining stronghold for the songbird.
Photograph by RSPB Images

The site includes ancient woodland with grasslands which are home to mammals, reptiles, amphibians, rare insects and flowers as well as nightingales. The importance of Lodge Hill is so great that in 2013 the Government declared it a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) based on its nightingale population.

There are just over 4,000 SSSIs in England and each one is chosen because they represent the best places for wildlife in the UK, and Lodge Hill plays an important role in providing a home for our wildlife for future generations. Under National Planning Policy, a SSSI can only be developed if all other options for potential development have first been exhausted, and then if mitigation or comprehensive compensation is put in place. 

The Nightingale has been immortalised in poetry thanks to its remarkable song, but the ground nesting bird is suffering major population decline in the UK.
Photograph by RSPB Images

Chris Corrigan, the RSPB’s England director, said: “ With one of the few places where nightingales are thriving under threat, thousands of people have used their voice at every stage to oppose plans to build at Lodge Hill. We need the local council to recognise that there is a nationally significant site on their doorstep that must be protected and celebrated. So we are asking people to once again make their voices heard so that local decision-makers can see the strength of feeling for our nightingales and special places.”

Greg Hitchcock, Kent Wildlife Trust, said: "Lodge Hill is a nationally important wildlife site, and is designated as such. It is a fantastic asset in the nation’s natural heritage, and should be protected and looked after for future generations. Medway Council received the message loud and clear that there is a huge amount of opposition to destroying this nationally important area, both from within Medway and around the country, but their new local plan still included plans to build on the site. We need to shout louder to protect this vulnerable site and others like it."

Several organisations, including the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust, have joined forces to encourage people to make their voices heard and oppose the development. Medway Council's public consultation into their draft Local Plan Development Options runs until 11 May.

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